April 29, 2004

Success Story

The new issue of City Journal has been out for a while, but I just got around to reading Steven Malanga's article, "What Does the War on Wal-Mart Mean?" . I guess I had not really been aware of the ferocity of the opposition to the growth and expansion of the retailer, figuring that perhaps groups of small retailers hurt by new Wal-Mart stores were behind most of the objections. Malanga shows that it's a lot more than that...

Though Wal-Mart has encountered opposition for years from anti-sprawl activists or small-town merchants worried about the competition, the Hartford drama exemplifies a brand-new kind of opposition, a coordinated effort of the Left, in which unions, activist groups like ACORN and the National Organization for Women, environmentalist groups, even plaintiffs’ attorneys work together in effective alliances. They are fighting the giant retailer not only store by store, but in statehouses, city halls, and courts. They have already managed to make Wal-Mart an issue in the presidential campaign: several Democratic hopefuls indicted the American shopper’s favorite store as unfriendly to working people.

The store's opponents, purporting to champion the cause of the "little guy" with calls for higher wages and better benefits, are attracting little support from the little guys who benefit from Wal-Mart jobs and low Wal-Mart prices:

Regardless of the campaign against it, Wal-Mart is generating enormous support in many of its newest markets, especially in lower-income urban areas where shoppers often have few choices among stores, and where prices are typically high—especially for groceries, which account for so big a percentage of low-income budgets. Minority communities traditionally friendly to the Left’s agenda have shocked opponents by welcoming Wal-Mart and working closely with it. Unions tried to stop the opening of the company’s Baldwin Hills store, even urging the Los Angeles Urban League not to work with Wal-Mart on a job-training program, but the head of the League turned down the unions, and more than 10,000 people applied to work in Baldwin Hills. Shoppers were just as enthusiastic about the three-level store there, a prototype for Wal-Mart in cities. In the first week the store was open, more than 330,000 customers visited the once-dying mall. “It’s those who don’t live in this community who did the most objecting to this store,” says former Los Angeles police commissioner and now councilman Bernard Parks. “The community has clearly spoken, and it supports this store.”

The experience in Baldwin Hills also refutes those who say that Wal-Mart stores drive small retailers out of business. On the contrary: barely four months after Wal-Mart opened in a once struggling shopping center, a major real-estate outfit snapped up the center, saying that the addition of Wal-Mart gave it tremendous new potential, because other stores now wanted to move in—bringing new jobs to a depressed neighborhood. “The easiest way to fill a shopping center is to tell stores that a Wal-Mart is coming there,” says Harry Freeman, executive director of the Hartford, Connecticut, Economic Development Council.

Lots of other good stuff at City Journal. Check it out if you don't already.

Posted by dan at April 29, 2004 11:54 PM